Production duos have rarely courted stardom in the same hungry fashion as rap artists or R&B divas, yet even by the standards of the average studio-bound soundscape sculptors, Jungle’s first foray into the record industry seemed wilfully obscure. Last summer’s debut single, Platoon, instantly garnered attention with its slick, soulful groove, alternately irresistibly finger tapping and dreamy, yet all we knew of their creators was that they went by the initials of J and T and came from somewhere in West London.
Since revealed as Shepherd’s Bush residents Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, Jungle have also embarked on a series of sold out live dates in Europe and the US – featuring an expanded line up of musicians – and the buzz around them has continued to build. This self-titled debut album goes a long way towards proving that the hype is justified.
What’s most striking about this record is its sheer confidence. From the ominous opening vocals and wailing police sirens of first track Heat right through to the defiant, euphoric yet lovelorn conclusion of closer Lemonade Lake, this is music delivered with authority and panache, displaying a seemingly effortless grasp of a range of genres. There’s liberal lashings of ’80s synth pop, a sprinkling of Bee Gees disco vocals, elements of Curtis Mayfield and Parliament, echoes of chillout acts of the late 1990s like Groove Armada and even a little nod to label mates The xx’s crepuscular ambience, all underpinned by vintage house and funk rhythms. With such a chameleon-like kaleidoscope of influences, Jungle could sound a little cluttered and uneven, but everything seems to meld together organically and seamlessly.
Early highlights include the surging, horn-driven Busy Earnin’, which could start any party, and the mellow, woozy Drops. As the record unfolds, we get Ennio Morricone-like whistling on the laconic, unhurried Smoking Pixels, while Time struts the dance floor with joyous abandon and Julia is the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack coated in space age stardust.
But the absolute zenith of the album is saved until the final act, with the last two songs elevating Jungle from the merely very good indeed to one of the albums of the year. Lucky I Got What I Want is maudlin and contemplative, the beats more subdued but no less infectious; the Gibb brothers falsetto still soars but in anguish rather than ecstasy. Even better is Lemonade Lake, a sublime, shimmering, almost transcendental ending to what’s been a blissful journey all round. Lyrically, there’s a real undercurrent of sadness and regret, not least with Lemonade Lake’s refrain “I miss you/Everyday and every night/Cause I don’t know what went wrong”, signalling the end of a journey through the album of a slowly disintegrating relationship. Some have branded Jungle as a classic case of style over substance, yet there is emotion here beneath the surface for those who look.
First and foremost though, Jungle is a hugely enjoyable record; accessible, fun and uplifting in its mood, even when exploring less rosy subject matter. It’s a rounded, polished, great pop album with both heart and soul – a rare combination. Sure, there will always be those who will dismiss them as polite, mannered “dinner party dance music” lacking true cutting edge and personality, but one senses the naysayers will be comprehensively outvoted when the year end best of lists are drawn up.